Getting your just desserts

African Raiders logo

CAR racing games always wind me up because they won't let me cheat. I mean if I want to risk disqualification by cutting corners, that is my problem. So what if it is not realistic - it is fun. At least it would be if I was allowed to do it.

African Raiders-01 (do not ask me, presumably there is an 02 planned) puts you in control of a fast four-wheel-drive desert buggy as a competitor in the African stage of the Paris to Dakar rally. You start in Tunis and have five stages to complete.

The first takes you through a rocky vista in Salah, Algeria. As in all the stages, there is a fixed route marked with oil drums. This is the safest route. But it is a long and winding road which avoids all the hazards of the Sahara. Keep to this well beaten track and you are more likely to arrive at your destination in one piece. You will also arrive last. Taking short cuts is more exciting. To this end you are supplied with a map of North West Africa which has all the landmarks fairly accurately plotted. The buggy is fitted with a compass and satellite navigation equipment.

The two most common hazards are quicksand and nomadic settlements. To get rid of that sinking feeling you can switch to four wheel drive but you are slowed from a maximum 240 kph to a piffling 80.

Nomadic settlements are represented by hordes of camels resting behind rocks. The aim is to avoid the same, although smashing into them, or anything else for that matter, on the first stage will not damage your buggy. Which is just as well because the first time you play African Raiders you are going to hit everything. Even if you stick to the track you are inevitably going to bash the odd oil drum. Said oil drum will fly off into the distance in a very satisfactory manner.

From time to time another competitor will appear in front of you, determined to stay there. Somehow you will have to navigate around him without going too far off course.

Stage Two is from Quallene in Algeria to Achegour in Niger. Sand is the prominent feature here. Lots of it, with high sculptured dunes on the horizon. If you hit anything on this and subsequent trips your buggy will sustain damage. First your speedo will break, followed by your navigation equipment and four wheel drive.

Lost in the desert you will almost certainly flounder about until your fuel tank runs dry. Luckily there is a hot key to let you pass to the next stage, although you will suffer severe time penalties for doing so.

The third stage is a race across Niger to Niamey. The scenery changes, the hazards remain the same. But there are more of them. The gameplay is accordingly more difficult.

On to the penultimate stage from Ouagadougou in the starved country of Burkina Faso to the capital of Mali, Bamako. This is the easiest level to navigate because the two towns are at the same latitude.

Set out north for one square and then turn left on to a heading of 270 degrees and you cannot fail to rejoin the track just north of the finishing line. This route also happens to be inundated with hazards. Shucks, foiled again.

The final stage is an inspired dash for Dakar, pushed on by the vision in the distance of a sparkling sea between tree dotted hills.

If you study the map hard enough you will see that each stage has an optimum route. It may look like a long haul, but because you can keep the speed up you will get there quicker. To cross the finishing line you have to rejoin the track at some time, where you will be rewarded by the sight of a helmeted local waving the chequered flag at you.

African Raiders is not a difficult game, but it is best played by two - one to steer, one to navigate and shout instructions. Playing on your own you will have to pause frequently to consult the map. Unless you stick to the track. In which case you will miss seeing the camels and oil rigs and skeletons and wrecked cars. Instead you will have to deal with tight bends and oil drums and wandering nomads who get very annoyed when you run them over. Either way, it is a lot of fun.

African Raiders logo


Strap yourself in and take part in the African stages of the Paris-Dakar rally, courtesy of Parisian software house Tomahawk.

There are five stages to the game, the idea being to make it from Point A to Point B in the shortest possible time, any which way you can. There is a roadway to follow, should you so wish, marked out with old barrels, but it is twisting and the other racers tend to stick to it so your times will be slow. To be in with anything like a chance of winning you have to venture cross-country, which is where the problems start.

The desert is full of hazards: barrels from last year's race, herds of resting camels and soft sand. Sand multiplies problems by slowing you right down but fortunately you can simply switch from two- to four-wheel drive and crossing the sand becomes much easier, though still slower than two-wheel drive on firm ground.

To help you navigate while you are off the track there is a digital compass on the dashboard. There is also a fuel gauge and an indicator (update by transmissions from a pursuit helicopter) giving you a grid reference, which enables you to follow and plot the course on the map supplied with the game. All the instruments are vital to successful completion of the stage, but they can get broken if you smash your car up too much, and it is terribly difficult to navigate with no instruments: so careful driving is a prime requisite.

On the approach to the finishing post, only if you join and follow the track to the line will your position be logged. Then the car is repaired and you can set out on the next stage.

The perspective used is good, the game overall is very fast and it boasts good gameplay: but it is not the most exciting of race games and offers little new apart from the map-reading aspect and a couple of new hazards. Still, it is well worth a look.


As you might expect from the French, the graphics are of a high standard. Collision detection seems a little iffy, but not disastrously so, and the undulating desert, the hazards and the backgrounds are all good. Sound is of a similarly high quality, helping to make this an extremely enjoyable, if not outstanding, car racing game.

African Raiders logo

Coktel Vision
Price: £24.95

Despite the tusks on the cover and the name this is not big game hunting software, this is a 4 X 4 racing game. Perhaps the French software house, Coktel vision did not think that was glamorous enough or perhaps it is because they did not get the licence for the Paris/Dakar rally, either way the title is naff. So are 4 X 4 games usually, there is something about four wheel drive which games designers think means that they have to spend lots of pre-race attention on how much brake fluid you can carry without sacrificing the wheelbase sprocket mechanisms. Very nice if your idea of light reading is a Haynes car maintenance manual.

African Raiders scores points here. You are straight off a rally stage without a single tyre pressure measured or gasket cantilevered. The idea of the game is simple, get to the route end in the fastest time possible. There is a road marked out for you with old barrels, but following them slows you down, so after a few initial runs, it is time to go cross-country. This means you are quite likely to get lost, but if you stay on the road nothing of any interest whatsoever happens; no obstacles, no pitfalls, just boring old sand. Fortunately, an electronic compass will tell you where you are and can be used to plot where you are going when you make your own tracks.

When you are roaring across the desert Coktel Vision have succeeded in creating a feeling of speed; it is not Super Hang-On, but it is better than a lot of Raiders' competitors. This does go part way to annulling some of the boredom as you zip across dune after dune, but the real fun is in the hazards. For some reason there are herds of camels to be avoided. When dodging them gets too boring, there is always the quicksand that slows you down to crawling pace, unless you engage your four wheel drive (yawn).

Now I know why people go mad in the desert; competition is far and few between and when you do find some, you cannot even overtake. The appeal of this sort of game is limited to those with enormous patience thresholds. The sky is a curious shade of purple and the sand green, but I am past caring or wondering why.

African Raiders has nice graphics, average sound effects and dispenses with all those fiddly bits other games are obsessed with. Sadly, repeats of Howard's Way are more interesting.